Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Long time coming, long time gone

"A garden is a way to plant your own insurance, a way to depend on yourself for dinner even if you're cash-broke and the car's out of gas."
--Jenna Woginrich, Barnheart

This quote is from a book I'm reading, one my wife ordered and devoured on the first leg of a recent road trip then demanded I read. It's a memoir about a woman who wants a farm and has to take baby steps toward her goal, while what she really longs for a one great leap toward personal satisfaction.

As for me, I want to stay crouched--we've taken a few big leaps in our life and the landings are never graceful and always hurt, but a big jump can remind you you're still alive. But we're taking baby steps because our legs aren't ready to get us from here to there just yet. Baby steps aren't nearly as satisfying, but hauling an armful of red romas from the garden does feel good, as does opening the coop to see four eggs instead of the three you've become accustomed to seeing. Whispy beans and vines full of blossoms are better than last week's crispy, draught-dying leaves. The acorn squash as long as my infant's pinky is better than the limp, arrested zucchini I pulled off a few days ago. And we have plenty of carrots. Doing something is always better than doing nothing.

Here's another passage from Barnheart, though, that just nails the sense of longing that accompanies big dreams too stubborn to fit into a person's outstretched arms:

I think that, in the long run, it's best to chase a dream over hill and dale, wrestle it to the ground and haul it back to your pasture (that passage is about wanting some sheep, so the metaphor works). ([Spolier alert: She gets some sheep.]) Waiting sucks, but I'm not sure that getting something too easily would be all that much better. And, hey, we can make our own marinara now. Baby steps...

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Next Generation

I had everything I needed growing up.

I hope my children say the same when they are our age.

Our priorities, from the job we have to the business's we support, are with our children in mind. I can only imagine what their thoughts are as they buzz from one very important project to the next, but I hope there is a moment when they look around and see how beautiful this world is.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Notes from our ground

Our soil is undergoing therapy this week.

We decided on raised beds when planning our garden. It seemed like a pretty sensible thing to do at the time... that is until we peaked into our compost bin we had labored over, added to, turned around at the appropriate time and saw that um... there wasn't much in there.

Soil is expensive to buy so we thought hey, lets see what happens if we throw all of our dead dry leaves in the beds, cover them in buckets and buckets of used coffee grounds, a very thin layer of our own compost and fill the rest with free composted horse manure. It worked.... kind of.

We have Blossom-End-Rot on our tomatoes. 
Signs: Bottom of tomatoes are turning black
Problem: Too much nitrogen, inconsistent watering
Solution: Add Calcium

We have squash bugs, striped cucumber beetle and possibly the Colorado potato beetles.
Signs: Yellowing leaves, low yields
Problem: The bugs are laying eggs and eating our leaves which means the plant can not produce enough chlorophyll to feed itself and so the fruit yield is very low - if we get anything at all. Our cucumbers, zucchini's and beans have really taken a hit.
Solution: Kill the bugs! We have picked them off, sprayed them off, flicked them off, smashed them and finally sprayed with spinosad. This is the first time we have ever used anything on our garden at all, and honestly I'm still not totally comfortable with it. We will see how it works and how I feel about it in a few weeks. We also sprinkled wood ash around.

We have bunnies, birds and squirrels. 

Problem: They are eating all of our berries. I do mean ALL.
Solution: We have tried all of the usual things. At best we kept the birds away for a short while and invited the bugs, beetles and ants in.  Our best solution to saving the blackberries, which is all we have left, is to pick them before they are completely ripe and let them ripen in a bowl on the kitchen table. The flavor suffers, but at least there is something to nibble on.

Signs: We have empty beds
Problem: Our kale, lettuce and broccoli seedlings aren't looking so great.
Solution: I have no idea.  My seedlings always grow super tall and thin and then fall over. They were started on our enclosed back porch, which is like a little greenhouse. They have plenty of heat and light and I think I am watering them correctly, but something is off because I keep having the same issues with seedlings.

Problem: Flying, Feed & Water Waste, Noise, Eggs

Solution: We had to clip the flight feathers on the four hens because they were hopping right over the fences like they weren't even there.
They are pretty quiet animals until they are upset about something, like their food is spilled or they are out of water because they knocked it over for the third time that day. We have plans to hang the feeder and waterer this week. I am a little concerned that their tantrums will upset a neighbor. That would be really bad. We are consistently getting 3 eggs per day right now. Which should be enough to feed our family, but we are rationing the eggs.  They are still pullet size and will probably remain on the small side for a while. I'm starting to wonder if we should have 5-6 hens instead of just 4.

I don't think we are alone in our struggling garden this year.  Today I cut out squash vine borer's at mother-in-laws house and it felt completely gratifying to smash those little punks. Her tomatoes are taller than me and some are already turning red.... her soil is beautiful, absolutely beautiful.

The great news of this year trial garden is that we have only bought carrots once this season. The rest we are just pulling as we need. We harvested our potatoes as small new potatoes because all of the leaves were turning brown and falling over (beetles). The 21 garlic bulbs are drying on the back porch. I've pickled a few cucumbers and we've devoured the zucchini that we did get before the bugs. We bought peas once, and we have consistently been eating peas every week since May. We just started a second planting. We ate all of our broccoli's in the course of about 2 weeks. I need to plant a lot more next year. A bunny ate our cauliflower. I need to learn how to hunt?
We have re-tilled and added more of our own compost to a few beds and  planted some oats and peas in a bed that was just a rock hard soil mess and we transplanted the green peppers and onions.

 Despite all the bugs, drought, and soil problems we are still eating well. I have never been more grateful for organic farmers in my life.

My 7 year old chose this recipe and made this dinner herself. Broiled Shrimp Parmesan over angel hair spaghetti with a Spinach-Mushroom Salad.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

We have a lot to learn

This is our third year of having a real garden, and in three years we can name a lot of things that grow in our yard that we couldn't name before. We can recognize an herb by scent, by leaf, by flower. We know how to get rid of ants and kill squash bugs. Sometimes, with the help of the internet, we can even identify edible weeds.

However, we still have a lot to learn. This year we are getting a lesson in more squash beetles, Colorado potato beetles, when to net the berries, when to harvest the scapes, when to transplant the strawberries, and when to start seeds indoors. You live and learn and empty the rain barrel and pray for rain.

So far we have harvested about 4 rounds of peas, a few decent size carrots, zucchinis, about 2 dozen garlic scapes, a handful of green beans, a few berries and loads of broccoli. The cucumbers. tomatoes, potatoes, beans, onions, peppers, cauliflower are coming... I hope.

In the kitchen we are knee-deep in the trenches of dairy experimenting/cheesemaking. I have wasted more milk than I will ever admit, but when it works it is a glorious achievement.  We have canned a good supply of strawberries and raspberries. We hope to pickle some cucumbers and freeze some beans, carrots and zucchini in the next few weeks. Our little garden will not supply enough for our family of five so we will pick up what is available at the nearby farms and put up as much as our budget allows.

When I look back at the way we were shopping, eating and cooking even a year ago, I laugh at myself. So much has changed in 12 months. Our opinions on food are ever-changing. Now we make every attempt to buy our groceries in cash instead of sliding a credit card so we aren't putting ourselves in our own personal food debt. We have diligently tried to cut our grocery budget, all the while supporting local and organic farms.  It hasn't been as easy for us as it was for Barbara Kingsolver.  We still slide the card when tips are low and we still find ourselves in the brightly lit aisles of Wal-mart even after we have exhausted all the local outlets. We are working on it. I don't think we will ever be able to eliminate the grocery store altogether, and I'm completely okay with this. I love pineapples and a life without pineapples seems too extreme and a little depressing. I will continue to buy bananas, oranges, pineapples and coconut milk because I love those thing and I want to enjoy as much delicious food as I can... and really that is what it comes down to for us at this moment...The best tasting food we can afford in our stomachs as much as possible.

Here is a look at our garden on this beautiful, albeit humid, fourth of July.... and no, our corn is not knee-high. We only got about 4 stalks of corn out of the 30 we planted thanks to the birds, and they are struggling to say the least. We did plant a second attempt in a raised bed, but I can already see little beak holes where there once was seed.

Three Sisters (Beans, Squash, Corn)

Potatoes, Beans, random Squash



Peas & Carrots


Golden Buffs



Raised beds





Roma Tomatoes